Author's Note: My own imagining of the time Darcy and Elizabeth were left alone at Netherfield. This is a one-shot and complete for now. I am somewhat interested in thinking more on what happened this final Saturday at Netherfield, or even writing different versions of this half hour, but I want to finish my other work first. Thank you for reading and reviewing!
To Mr. Darcy it was welcome intelligence—Elizabeth had been at Netherfield long enough. She attracted him more than he liked—and Miss Bingley was uncivil to her, and more teasing than usual to himself. He wisely resolved to be particularly careful that no sign of admiration should now escape him, nothing that could elevate her with the hope of influencing his felicity; sensible that if such an idea had been suggested, his behaviour during the last day must have material weight in confirming or crushing it. Steady to his purpose, he scarcely spoke ten words to her through the whole of Saturday, and though they were at one time left by themselves for half-an-hour, he adhered most conscientiously to his book, and would not even look at her. (Volume I, Chapter 12)
Mr. Darcy was proud of his character. He often reflected on the valuable traits of a long line of Darcy men: responsible, sensible, fastidious, constant; in short, everything required of a man of consequence to maintain his stature in respectable society. Currently, he was gratified in having spent a lifetime developing a sense of constancy that could be confused with sheer obstinacy. After another night spent dreaming of Miss Elizabeth Bennet's beguiling smiles, wit, and brilliant eyes, he woke with the resolution to crush any expectations he was unwillingly building by paying her too much attention.
Yes, Mr. Darcy was concerned about the expectations he was raising in a young lady society required him to have no serious designs on. He was not the type of gentleman, neither now nor in his youth, who would flirt prodigiously with any lady who came across his way. Of course, this reticence was to the benefit of himself as much as the lady; he would not be foolish enough to put himself into the position to be honor bound to anyone through his own carelessness. And clearly, the danger was in her becoming too enamored with him. He could count on himself to crush his own growing attraction to her as long as he kept himself at a distance.
On Saturday, a day prior to the much desired Bennet departure, Mr. Darcy had these convictions to fall back on when he and Miss Elizabeth were unexpectedly left alone in the parlor in the late afternoon. The eldest Miss Bennet was resting in her chambers. The Hursts had left to idle about in the garden. Bingley himself was called away on an estate matter, and Caroline, acting as mistress of the house, had been approached by a clearly terrified housekeeper due to some confusion over the evening's meal. Mr. Darcy, with no small amount of obfuscated amusement, watched as Caroline's frustration grew to a fever pitch when she realized she would have to excuse herself. It clearly vexed her immensely to leave Mr. Darcy and Miss Elizabeth unchaperoned. She insisted her return would be imminent. Nothing short of the possibility of presenting a less-than-worthy meal at dinner to Mr. Darcy could draw Caroline away.
Here, Mr. Darcy glanced at the clock on the mantle as he picked up the book that he had brought into the drawing room. It seemed uncivil to quit the room entirely and leave Miss Elizabeth by herself. He shifted stiffly in the armchair near the fireplace, a safe and proper distance from the settee Miss Elizabeth occupied, holding his book firmly with both hands. She had spent the afternoon occupied with her novel and had succinctly acknowledged Caroline's exit with a polite nod and a smile.
Once Caroline was gone from the room, he was certain Miss Elizabeth would make some teasing remark to him. She had taken every other opportunity allotted to her to engage him in conversation, but he was not going to invite it. No, he would be steady to his purpose. Alone in a room with Miss Elizabeth Bennet. He would have to be very careful indeed to not encourage her.
The anticipation of hearing her voice caused him to read the first paragraph on his page several times over to process the words. Moments passed and still Miss Elizabeth had not spoken to him.
Determined not to invite her conversation by drawing attention to himself, Mr. Darcy moved his eyes slowly to glance her from the peripheral of his vision. She was thoroughly engrossed in her novel and judging from the remaining pages in her book, was very much near the end.
Even from the corner of his eyes, he could see the pretty picture she painted, with her eyebrows scrunched softly in concentration, her lips parted slightly as her eyes darted rather rapidly across the pages of her book.
Mr. Darcy blinked and shifted uncomfortably in his chair as he forced his eyes back down to the page. Even this glance was too much indulgence. He was determined not to look at her again.
Now that he was depriving himself of using his vision to drink her in, his other senses became acutely awakened, making it impossible for him to concentrate on anything but her. This was hardly a surprise to Mr. Darcy, as he paid a great deal of attention to her anytime they were in the same room together almost from the first moment of their acquaintance. His first impression of her had been severe, but he began to revise his opinions very quickly the more he heard and saw of her.
Now, he felt her presence too keenly. His ears strained to pick up every sound that came from her direction. The scratch of her fingers grazing across the paper as she turned a page. The barely perceptible inhale and exhale of her steady breathing. The rustle of the fabric on her white dress when she briefly stirred. The book was keeping her sufficiently distracted enough not to begin conversation with him, as eager as he was certain she was to do so.
They were near enough that the faint smell of citrus and something else, apple perhaps, reached him. He longed to move closer to her to better discern what exactly was intoxicating him. The room was warm. Or rather, he was beginning to feel rather warm.
He moved his right hand to hold the book from the middle, his thumb firmly planted on the bottom of the page to keep the book open. This freed his left hand to come up to his face as he propped his left elbow on the arm of his chair. The back of his hand rested against his chin and lips.
He wondered how close she was to finishing her novel. Netherfield's library left much to be desired, so he had read the same novel during the first week of his stay. He wanted to ask her what she thought about the ending and her opinion on whether the author was condoning or condemning the actions of the hero. She turned another page; he sighed softly into the back of his hand.
He would not raise her expectations. Heaven help him, he would not speak to her. He remained steady to his purpose, refocusing on the pages in front of him. His thoughts wandered. There were superior books available at his library in Pemberley that she would enjoy. Would? He envisioned her eyes brightening at the sight of the Pemberley library. He pictured them, together, sitting in front of the fireplace, with her reclined against him as he read her poetry to feed their fine, stout, healthy love. She would fill the room with her enchanting laugh. He smiled despite himself. It was much easier to ignore the real life Miss Elizabeth while indulging his flights of fancy about her. He lost himself in his thoughts.
Without an impartial and interested observer in the room, there was no one to notice that despite Mr. Darcy's appearance of adhering most conscientiously to his book, he had failed to turn a single page for the last half-an-hour.